A fiery plane crash in Clarence Center killed Beverly Eckert, a widow who had lost her husband, Sean Rooney, when a Boeing 767 jet exploded into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
I had the opportunity to work with Beverly from 2002 to 2009 as a member of Congress and a 9/1 1 commissioner. Over the past seven years, she was able to help create the 9/1 1 Commission, make a serious impact on the organization of the intelligence community and define the critical role of a U.S. citizen in our 21st century democracy.
I first met Beverly when we were working to pass a bill to create the 9/1 1 Commission. The White House was adamantly fighting the legislation, and many family members of 9/1 1 were joining voices to overcome this powerful opposition. She helped plan rallies, met and argued with committee chairmen in Congress and aggressively lobbied White House officials to support an independent commission.
The 9/1 1 family members proved to be quick studies. Beverly led conference calls and strategy sessions and targeted e-mail to members of Congress representing areas hit by the terrorist attacks, believing they were the most likely to break party ranks.
The 9/1 1 Commission proposed the creation of a new office -- the Director of National Intelligence -- to provide strategic coordination for the 16 agencies in the intelligence community. Beverly worked the ensuing months with prominent 9/1 1 family members to pass this new legislation through Congress.
Ultimately, the intelligence reform bill passed, mostly due to the 9/1 1 family members providing the moral authority and executing effective advocacy, especially given the difficulty of establishing this powerful Director of National Intelligence office.
Just a few weeks ago, I talked with Beverly again. She had taken several months off from "Washington work" to relax and recharge her batteries. She had recently read about a congressionally created commission working on securing weapons of mass destruction, and wanted to know how it was relevant to the 9/1 1 Commission's recommendations in this area. During a 30-minute conference call, she was suggesting ideas, recommending strategies and enthusiastically jumping back into her role as an advocate of reform.
In helping to create the 9/1 1 Commission and passing the intelligence reform bill, Beverly served to modernize and update the role of citizen advocate. She channeled great grief and potentially crippling loss into public advocacy that produced significant change.
She said she always wanted to "live a good life, be strong and inspire people." People like Beverly Eckert, who achieved change and made a difference today in our politics, are what Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he said, "a government of the people, by the people and for the people."
Tim Roemer is president of the Center for National Policy, a former congressman from Indiana and a member of the 9/1 1 Commission.